Monday, February 02, 2015

team time

Today the Uniting College team takes time out. Not to sit in the naughty corner, but to renew and refocus.

Half of our time will be spent on spiritual renewal. We want to be a team that not only works but also worships. So together during the retreat we will enjoy some Godly play, with a Children’s ministry leader from a local church present to invite us to wonder at the Biblical story we find ourselves in. Individually, people have also been asked to bring what renews them. There is space for folk to do that and then to gather and share that with each other, underlining our diversity as a community.

The other half of our time will be spent on planning. We have two tasks. One is to take forward the Capacity Builder strategic plan that guides and holds us. 2015 is the last year of the (four year) plan, and there are some as yet untouched areas that we need to focus on. We have done some parts of our plan superbly, but there at some areas we have yet to touch. These include

  • Faculty increasing their research output
  • Student formation enhanced through the use of journals in which they share courageous attempts to integrate learning with practice
  • Every ordination candidate able to articulate a plan toward innovation and invigoration
  • Regional delivery, taking College to the local church

So I will be suggesting a process whereby the structures we have created over the last few years can be deployed to enable us to achieve these agreed goals. (It is so good having a plan, which means we gather around already agreed momentum).

We also have to re-tell the story of our team culture. We have a set of team values that we continue to articulate and revisit. We will do that again, pausing to check that these values say all that needs to be said about how we want to “be” and “do” with each other in this current season. This is also an act of hospitality, allowing those new to the team to hear if you like, part of our family story.

Posted by steve at 08:36 AM

Thursday, January 29, 2015

colouring my leadership

Over my recent summer holidays, I appreciated the New Zealand landscape. Four colours in particular grabbed me. They were the grey of alpine stone, the blue of glacial water, the green of Westcoast forest and the yellow of the alpine daisy, each an important memory in a road trip that Team Taylor took to the Westcoast.

whats_your_dulux_colour_of_nz

I pondered some way to take these holiday experiences into my working year. The process began by reflecting on the emotion that each colour generated in me, those feelings of concrete stability (alpine grey), of awe at nature (glacier blue), at the outrageous growth possible due to West coast rain (forest green), at the joy of exploration that meant an encounter with the very rare alpine daisies that grow around Castle Hill.

I then sought to reduce each colour to a word. One word. This was difficult, but the work paid off.

  • grey=clarity
  • blue=wonder
  • yellow=explore
  • green=create

As I pondered these words, I realised that each word, each colour, could actually be applied to my vocation as Principal.

  • grey=clarity, as I communicate, chair meetings, conduct performance appraisals, ask questions
  • blue=wonder, as I ask “what is God up to?” in the candidates I am part of forming, in the classes I teach, in the team I lead
  • yellow=explore, as I seek in my research and reading to keep addressing the questions of mission and ministry
  • green=create, as I have some specific writing projects that I want to deliver on

In turn, I then began to imagine how my weekly diary might look.  Grey (clarity) and blue (wonder) are the colours of my day to day work. Yellow (explore) is the research time that I programme into my Fridays.  Green (create) is what happens in study leave and with my “hour a day” of writing habit that while I struggle to maintain, has a been a great help in enhancing my writing output in recent years.

The colours have changed my attitudes to work. As I journal at the end of each day, I focus now not only on what happened, but on the colour. How have I been part of bringing clarity? Where have I seen wonder? As I turn to write for an hour a day, often tiredly, I am refreshed by thinking of green, the invitation to create.

To give one specific example, the day I arrived back from holiday, my PA regretfully told me that she needed to resign, due to personal reasons relating to an unexpected and critical health concern in the family. The colours shaped my response. How could I bring grey/clarity in my communication with team and wider? What, I wonder, might God be doing in this totally unexpected news?

The colours helped me look at life in new ways. It enabled me to pray in new ways. Equally importantly, I have a deep sense that the joy of recreation that is part of summer is continuing with me into my working week.

Each of us will have different colours. Each of us have different ways to recreate. Each of us have different working weeks. But I wonder what your colours would be? And how they might shape how you engage with your working place?

Posted by steve at 06:41 PM

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

the mindfulness of vocation

I love the way the prophets’ call begins (Old Testament Lectionary reading for Sunday 25 January 2015). In Jeremiah 1:4, “Now the word of the Lord came …”

Now.

Not yesterday or tomorrow, but now.

There is a time-bound, fully present, mindfulness to this call.

The entire passage in Jeremiah 1:4-10 is laced with God’s action. Considers the verbs – forms, knows, consecrates, appoints, sends, commands, delivers, touches (mouth), appoints. The whole process is about God’s actions.

The prophet is only a participant. What that requires of the human in response to God’s action, is a participation in the now.

One contemporary word to describe this is mindfulness. It’s common in schools and wellbeing workshops. It’s the intentional focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.

On the now. This body, this community, this set of challenges, these invitations. I know churches and organisations caught up in God’s action yesterday. I know leaders who live constantly for the future. The challenge of Jeremiah 1:4 is for leaders to be in the now, responding to God’s actions in and around them.

This brings into play two essential practices of mission, those of listening and discernment. Listening, in order to pay attention to the “now” of God’s action; discerning, naming what it might mean to participate in what God is doing. Both of these practices, what Rowan Williams calls the first acts of mission, are “now” activities.

They will bring an alternative tomorrow, they will draw wisdom from yesterday. But they begin with the “now” of God’s action.

Posted by steve at 11:59 AM

Thursday, November 06, 2014

too busy not to listen

As the Semester ends at Uniting College there is the usual tiredness, mixed with piles (and piles) of marking. At times of busyness, the need to make time to listen is even more important. In fact, listening is one of the most important things a leader can offer their community. We have two ears but only one tongue for a reason. Hence the following invite, being sent out to our students in the next few days. It is an invite to be listened to ….

Greetings,

It has been a year of significant change for students at 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park. Whether you are studying for a Flinders University or Adelaide College of Divinity award, there have been changes – with new technologies, with the library, in ecumenical relationships.

As the year ends, Janet Buchan (Executive Officer, ACD) and Steve Taylor (Principal, Uniting College), would like to spend some time listening to students. Whether you are undergraduate or postgraduate, part-time or full-time, we would like to hear from you.

What is working well? What could work better?

We will offer you pizza. We will guide you through a process of clarifying and refining the good and the bad.

We make three commitments

  • We will provide you with pizza if you RSVP
  • We will listen
  • We will make what emerges a priority for us into 2015.

Date: Wednesday, November 19, 5:30 pm-7:15 pm, student common room. RSVP by Monday, November 17, to lynda dot leitner at flinders dot edu dot au

Hoping to see you

Janet Buchan and Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 09:42 PM

Monday, October 27, 2014

sticky innovation: making change concrete

Making change stick. It’s one of the challenges of innovation. Finding ways to embed change in the life of your organisation and your systems, so that change lives on. Last week I saw this happen in two different ways, by ritualising and by double-dipping.

First, by ritualising. Last year as our annual Presbytery and Synod approached, I was in a group discussing a separate issue, of how to name a change in our candidate process. Uniting Church ministerial training guidelines, passed in 1997, reviewed and affirmed in 2007, call for a Third Phase of Ministerial Education. It is intended to be period of sustained and intentional mentoring and support for newly ordained ministers during the first three years of ministry practice. In South Australia, this partnership happens through Formation Panels. Nine times in Phase two, five times in Phase three, a group of experienced ministers meet with those in Phase 3, to provide support in transition, to advise in managing time, developing an appropriate work-life balance and doing all those firsts – wedding, funeral, baptism, Easter, AGM, conflict!

Deep relationships form. Then suddenly, the minister has moved to Phase 4. How to honour this change? At the same time, another group I was part of was planning the annual Recognition of Ministry service, in which retiring ministers are thanked and blessed. Why not weave a new ritual into that evening? Why not ask all those transitioning into Phase 4 to stand? Why not celebrate this expression of growth? Why not ask the retiring ministers to bless them?

This week the annual Presbytery and Synod approached again. The order of service from last year was found and the email arrived. “Steve, last year we did something. Can you remember what it was, because it needs to be done again.” And so ritualising, weaving a growth moment, with prayer, into a worship service, had “stuck.”

Second, double-dipping. In May, we introduced a change into our Adelaide College of Divinity graduation service. As each graduand came forward, they were briefly introduced. A few sentences that told where they had come from, what they had studied and where they were going to. This involved a prior brainstorm regarding what we as Faculty knew of the student, followed by a phone call to ensure the student was happy with what would be said. A bit of work. But the feedback was overwhelming. Students felt personalised, the audience felt connected.

Last week, we faced the annual government reporting. It includes a graduate survey, to capture employability. We all grinned. No need do that research, because we already have that data. Sure enough, every single graduation introduction, had the employment data we needed. Double dipping. Using one piece of work twice. It makes the change likely to “stick” because of the value of double dipping.

Making change stick is harder that starting change. But ritualising and double-dipping are all practices which make change concrete.

Posted by steve at 10:22 PM

Friday, September 12, 2014

a college of passion

Passion.

Twice this week I’ve been told that a Uniting College lecture is full of passion.

First, a visitor. A successful local business person, dropping in to see “what happens”? And at half-time, looking the lecturer in the eye and thanking them for their passion.

Second, a lecturer. Inviting guests to share of their ministry. Glad, at lecture’s end, of the passion. And how it infected the students, shaped the tutorial, infected the ongoing learning of the class.

Passion.

What is interesting is that passion is a core value at Uniting College. You know those vision statements, destined to sit at the bottom of a pile of papers? Well, the vision statement of Uniting College includes passion:

To develop life-long disciples and effective leaders for a healthy, missional Church, who are:
Passionate
Christ-centred
Highly skilled
Mission-oriented practitioners

So, somehow, passion has snuck out of our vision statement, leapt of the page and seeped into how classes. How?

I asked this question at our team yesterday. What does passion mean for us? And how has it leaked into our life?

And so together we talked as a team.

  • is it because we care for our students? We’re not just about our research, we’re also about the people who come to learn and grow with us
  • is it because we’re shaped by suffering? That in each of us as lecturers, there has been a personal learning, a vulnerability
  • it is because we’re authentic? We want to walk our talk. We want what we say about faith, about ministry, about life, to be lived in us and livable through us.
  • is it because we’re sacrificial? Many of us have been paid better elsewhere. We’ve taken pay reductions to work here, because we believe in the Kingdom, believe in what we’re doing.
  • is it because we’re whole-bodied? The creative act invites us to take risks, to offer ourselves in risk into our projects, our lectures, our classes.

Passion. In us. In all of us as a team. In our life.  Snd so in our lectures. And please, in God’s grace, in our students.

Posted by steve at 09:51 PM

Thursday, September 11, 2014

facing forward Uniting Colleges

“We need different kind of leadership; people that respond quickly to new situations; people that don’t come with a ready made tool kit of resources; people that know how to draw out the best of the local community” So said Andrew Dutney in announcing the birth of Uniting College for Leadership and Theology five years ago. It was the reason for the change of name, a commitment to be a different kind of College that would train a different type of leader.

It’s consistent with how scholarship is understood in the Basis of Union. Paragraph 11 links scholarship with the mission of the church for fresh words and deeds, as the occasion demands. Thus the Uniting Church seeks a different model of scholar than that offered by the modern University. It seeks scholarship (and by implication, a College) that is ecclesial because it is integrative (read alongside paragraph 10), missionary, innovative (fresh words and deeds) and contextual (as the occasion demands).

Posted by steve at 12:09 AM

Sunday, June 22, 2014

change processes: finding voice

On Saturday, I was allocated 60 minutes to lead a discernment process at our Presbytery and Synod meeting, in regard to mission. After I finished, a participant approached me to ask who they could complain to about the process. They considered what I had done a waste of everyone’s time. The conversation helped clarify for me some ongoing questions about change processes across systems.

I want to blog about these, in order to help clarify my thinking. In this first post, I want to outline what I did and why. In a second post I want to reflect on the complaint, and what it helped clarify for me about where and how systems seek energy, change and leadership. In a third post, I want to summarise a presentation I made on Friday, on how New Testament churches inter-connect and to relate it to how churches today are connecting. Fourth, I want to reflect on what I might do differently and what denominational change processes are needed in the 21st century.

SO WHAT WAS THE GROUP PROCESS I INITIATED?

In March, an overseas speaker, Dave Male had addressed the Presbytery and Synod in regard to mission. Towards the end of the day, Dave presented 12 challenges to us. Following these challenges, those gathered spent about 20 minutes in table groups discussing the 12 challenges. People were invited to write their comments, which were collected. The meeting moved on with the existing agenda. In other words, nothing concrete was decided by this gathering of people.

Afterward, I was asked if, the next time we gathered, I could provide some leadership in helping us take some next steps. I was allocated 60 minutes and here is what I did.

Introduction (10 minutes) – The 12 things were re-introduced. Woven into this summarising was “appreciative inquiry.” Various “bright spot” stories, of local examples from the Synod, were presented. This served both as a reminder and as a contextualisation. Where there was no obvious “bright spot”, we paused for prayer.

Introduce process (5 minutes) – The Presbytery and Synod gathers around table groups. On each table was placed a task. 1/3 had a blank piece of paper and they were invited to identify a word or image from bright spots. 2/3 were provided with some part of the table group feedback from last time. The task was to come up with 1 proposal; with 1 action that might help us as a Presbybery and Synod take a step forward.

Group work (15 minutes) – In preparation I had analysed the table group feedback. I had looked for movement. Green lights – What did people most want to push forward? Orange lights – what were things that people were wanting to question, to nuance, to think about more carefully?

Green lights – Train all your people to share their story; Presbytery mission staff to be involved in fresh expressions; Invest in people not buildings

Orange lights -The Role of Holy Spirit in our life as church; the link between evangelism, agencies and fresh expressions; the role of Synod in change processes

Reporting back from the floor (27 minutes assuming 1 minute per table group) – Each table group were invited to present their proposal. After each sharing, the Moderator “tested” each proposal. If people were ‘warm’ they would raise an orange card, if people were “cold” they could raise a blue card. The 3 or 4 proposals that had the least blue cards, would be taken away, in preparation to bring them back as proposals the next time (November) the Presbytery and Synod gathered.

Summary (5 minute) – Thanks for participating, a reminder that the work would become proposals to “vote” on at November Presbytery and Synod and a final 13th bright spot story, to encourage.

WHY THIS PROCESS?

First, at Pentecost, the promise is that the Spirit would be poured out on all people; Your sons and daughters would prophesy; younger people will see visions; older people will dream dreams. I actually believe that. I wondered if, in 15 minutes, we as a Synod might experience that Pentecost Spirit.

Second, we as a Presbytery and Synod have some significant challenges. It just might be that some part of our future, a next step, is actually tucked up in someone’s imagination, among the gathered people of God.

Thirdly, my experience is that processes in which humans are involved are more likely to last longer. So why not keep engaging people in the processes.

PITFALLS THAT MADE ME NERVOUS:

First, time – 60 minutes is a significant block of time in which to expect a large group to engage. Would it be worth it? What if there were no ideas?

Second, and related the process – Would people engage? What if nothing happened? What type of ideas would emerge?

So that was the process. Next time, I’ll reflect on the person who had the courage afterward to complain, and what it signals about where systems look for leadership and change.

Posted by steve at 08:15 PM

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

DIY supervision, DIY spirituality, DIY leadership, DIY church

“There is even less discussion with supervisors about the changes that might be produced by what I see as rapidly expanding DIY doctoral education practices” – books, blogs, webinars, forums, chats – “Much of this socially mediated DIY activity is international, cross-disciplinary and all day/all night … something is happening here and we (collectively) don’t know what it is. … It’s a field which is fragmented, partially marketised, unregulated and a bit feral. But it’s big, it’s powerful, more and more doctoral researchers are into it, and it is profoundly pedagogical. I’m concerned that British universities are generally (and of course there are exceptions, but mostly this is the case) not helping supervisors to think about this DIY supervision trend and what it means for how doctoral education is changing – and crucially, what the implications for their supervision practices might be.” (Some excerpts from a recent blog post on the rise of DIY in post-graduate study.

The links to spirituality, leadership and church are obvious. For many folk, the internet has become a huge resource in sustaining faith.

This is only a hunch, but I doubt emerging church and fresh expressions would have had nearly the impact (for good and bad) without the internet.

It is a place awash with resources for leaders – sermons to hear, places to discuss, people to follow.

I’ve spent the last two days at the Education for Ministry working group. It is a Uniting Church Assembly project. I’ve sat with 9 leaders from across the Uniting Church in Australia, talking about the future of formation for ministry. Our focus was formal training, and all the time, what about the “big,” “powerful,” and “pedagogical” training that is the DIY of living in a world socially mediated? What are those we train learning via the internet? Who are they “following” that is partial, fragmented and unregulated? What does this mean for how leaders are being formed today?

Posted by steve at 10:14 PM

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Diploma of Ministry: New pathway in Innovation and Pioneering

It seems appropriate in the week following Pentecost, to note the recent decision of the Academic Board to approve a new pathway in Innovation and Pioneering.

Dave Male has endorsed this, saying:

“This is a fantastic course that equips missional leaders for the present and the future of the church. I would encourage any leader to consider coming on this. It has some of the best material and teachers in the pioneering world.”

Diploma of Ministry: New pathway in Innovation and Pioneering

A new pathway in the Diploma of Ministry will provide a comprehensive foundation in principles and practices of ministries of innovation and social entrepreneurship shaped by a Christian commitment.

The Diploma of Ministry is nested within the Bachelor of Ministry for those who wish to continue their study. This new pathway would be ideally suited for those wanting to transition to Bachelor of Ministry Practice Stream.

The Diploma of Ministry general structure is 8 units, of which 4 are core and 4 are elective. In this pathway students complete 6 required units (including the four core) and 2 optional units. The Diploma can be completed in one year of full-time study, or part-time equivalent study.

Required units

MINS1002 Introducing the Scriptures*

This unit provides an overview of the OT and NT writings, exploring major theological themes (one being missio Dei). Students in this pathway would have available an assignment focused on pioneering in Biblical texts.

MINS1305 Reading Cultures*

Key themes in this unit include understanding communities, global cultures, and ministry models. Students would have available an assignment focused on pioneering in a new mission.

MINS1601 Spirituality for 21st Century Disciples*

This units assists students to develop the ability to articulate biblical, spiritual and ethical bases for Christian discipleship and reflect on application of these in our own life and others.

MINS1510 Introduction to Formation for Ministry*

In this unit students explore the nature and practice of Christian formation, including learning styles, self-assessment, commitment to ethical practice, to develop an understanding of identity in relation to taking on professional role in ministry and the implications for vocation, faith and life.

MINS23xx Innovation as Pioneering

This new unit explores questions such as: Who is a pioneer? What are their practices? How do they sustain their life? (for more, see here).

MINS2518 Supervised Field Education 1

Students in this pathway would undertake SFE for experience in a pioneering context, either starting something or in observation.

Optional units

Two units chosen from the following:

MINS2318 Mission Then, Mission Now

MINS2314 The Theology of Jesus Christ, Word and Saviour

MINS3339 Missional Church Leadership

MINS2537 Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy

MINS2317 Guided Study in Innovation A

Each of these units gives students the opportunity to explore or reflect on themes relevant to innovation and pioneering:

  • Mission Then, Mission Now explores church history for mission lessons for today;
  • Theology of Jesus Christ explores Jesus with particular attention to boundary crossing;
  • Missional Church Leadership invites reflection on mission to Western cultures with particular attention to the local church’s participation;
  • Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy introduces students to practices, images and theological themes in a practical theology of chaplaincy.
  • Guided Study in Innovation A enables a focus on mission shaped ministry

Rationale for new Diploma pathway

We have, over the last few years, used the specialisation pathway in the Diploma to point to particular vocation paths within our suite of courses. A new pathway in innovation and pioneering continues this focus.

We have a BMin Practice Stream offering and the Diploma provides a clear entry pathway.

The Uniting Church have asked us to train pioneer leaders and this course meets this request.

In a diverse educational market, this continues one of the unique foci of Uniting College around leadership, mission and innovation.

Posted by steve at 12:57 PM

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

call stories and their place in forming leaders

Monday is our monthly Leadership Formation day at Uniting College. It is a day to gather as a community of candidates moving into ordained ministry. There is time to share and worship. There is also time to process the specific formation required of those called to lead others publicly.

This year we have framed formation around 10 practices of mission spirituality. We are drawing on Susan Hope, Mission-Shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission.

Monday the practice was called and sent. All Christians are called and sent. Thus all ministers are called and sent. However the candidate journey requires thinking about called and sent corporately. What does being sent mean for our identity as ministers? What does it mean to lead a church in being sent? How does Uniting Church ministry, and in particular the Uniting Church Preamble, shape being sent?

In preparation, I asked candidates to bring with them either a “sending” Bible text that challenged them or a Christian in history who led a sent life that encouraged them.

I then invited the candidates to go for a walk and share their story in two’s. Upon return, they were asked to write up what they heard (not what they said) on the white board. We ended up with a white board covered with call stories – Phoebe, Moses, Brendan the Navigator, Joseph, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Moses. A rich tapestry of names that have shaped our call stories. Out in the open, removed from us, placed among us, discussion then followed around two talking points. First, were there shared themes? There were, including

  • God is calling and God’s character is revealed in call
  • many were called to make a difference, to be part of change
  • the call was to risk and adventure. This required trust
  • the importance of struggle in responding to call
  • the diversity of call
  • how often the call story a person named meshed with their personality. The response to ministry was a coming home, a true finding of self

Second, how did it feel to trust our story to another? This question enabled us to consider the fact that call is heard and discerned by the church. Call stories might be shared by us, but they are part of processes in which our individuality is placed among others, among people, among the church. This requires trust and vulnerability. We might be mis-heard. Equally, we might not share truly. This is the humanity of being in ministry and being the church. And so we reflected together on what this meant for us, as candidates, working through the process of formation placed by the church.

It was a rich and valuable process, shaped by a set of simple questions – what call story has shaped you? when we hear these stories and place them together, what do we learn?

Posted by steve at 06:21 PM

Thursday, May 22, 2014

team re-building

Teams are never stable. First, teams are made up of people. People change, growth and morph. They feel more involved or less involved, more empowered or less empowered.  Second, teams are made up of people who come and go. As a result, any “team work” is always for the moment. Vital, important.

But healthy teams over time need to work on processes that spiral, rather than process that are linear. They need to find ways to go over ground that is worn, yet in ways that are fresh.

At Uniting College, we’re in a time of rapid team building. We’ve had two new staff join us in the last three weeks, five in the last nine months. Over half of the team of 14 are new to College since I became Principal less than two years ago.

Today I introduced the following process in team re-building.

First, I noted that we had a set of team values. These sit in our photocopy room. They began life among us back in August 2012. That meant, I observed, that practically a good number in our team were now new to these values.

Second, I divided the team into pairs. Each pair was chosen, with an “old-timer”, someone who was there in August 2012, and a “new-timer,” a person who has joined the team in time since.

Third, I invited the pairs to go for a walk or find a couch or share a cup of tea. And to ask each other the following four questions.

  • The “oldtimer” is to be asked – What were the processes and events by which these values emerged? How did it feel?
  • The “newtimer” is then asked – What word or phrase or concept strikes you?
  • Mutual question – What would it be like to be in a team that lived like this?
  • Mutual question – We are a different team now than in 2012. Is there anything we might need to add or delete or modify?

Fourth, each pair was invited to take notes. We will return to these notes next week.

In the meantime, dotted around the room, was a buzz of conversation.  Stories were told, history recalled, values engaged, being team now considered.  It was a team re-building.

Posted by steve at 10:45 PM

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

year of the student

It is a new term this week at Uniting College, so to help focus the team, I placed a visual reminder on all the doors down the corridor.

Titled Year of the student, with a picture of 6 different shoes, it is a reminder of work we did as a team at a beginning of year retreat. Last year was effectively a Year of Compliance for us as a team, with multiple government registration processes. We passed all with flying colours, but the danger was we remained in an administrative mindset.

So I suggested that this 2014 year we make the Year of the Student. One of our team found multiple pictures of shoes. We each chose a pair and invited ourselves to imagine being a student. A case study, of arriving late to a first class, helped ground us in our “student” shoes. A bit of feedback from first time students kept us honest. From there, we brainstormed what we could do to focus on student experience. It was a great exercise.

So with a new term, it was time to remind us all of what we dreamed at the start of the year. And to prepare us for some evaluation at our team meeting on Thursday.

Posted by steve at 02:40 PM

Monday, April 28, 2014

taglines. learn! lead! live! Why not learn! serve! live!?

A few weeks ago I presented a paper at the Beyond Education conference. The topic I was asked to address was theological education in leadership formation. I argued that the words leadership and theological education were not either/or alternatives. Instead, I used the work of Mieke Bal to argue for a hermeneutical approach to change, one that expected both theological education and leadership, one that made sense of our pluralistic and post-Christian context. I sought to relate all this to the Uniting College tagline – learn! lead! live!

I was pretty pleased with my paper and thought the use of hermeneutics and cultural theorist would be well received. Alas, my presentation attracted a fair bit of academic pushback. The main focus was a strong negative reaction to the L-word – leadership. One questioner put it well. What does Jesus offer the word “lead”? Surely the only Christian way to express your tagline is learn! serve! live!, not learn! lead! live!, for that is what Jesus came to do.

I’ve continued to ponder the question.

Surely there’s more to Jesus than service? Jesus announced a Kingdom, enacting in both word and deed a new set of values; Jesus gathered a community; Jesus challenged political powers; Jesus longed to gather the lost like a mother hen gathers chicks; Jesus held the cup of suffering .. the list goes on. Yes to service, but yes also to vision casting, to community building, to prophetic and pastoral skills.

And then there’s Christian history. Banks and Ledbetter, in their excellent book, Reviewing Leadership: A Christian Evaluation of Current Approaches note how important the L-word in history has been. For the Apostle Paul, leadership resembles family life. In the Benedictine tradition, the leader is the abbot. In the Reformed tradition, the leader challenges static ways. In the Quaker tradition, the leader listens. In the Pentecostal tradition leadership is being empowered by the Spirit. Again, we see a much richer contribution from Christianity to leadership than simply serving.

Yes, Jesus did come to serve. But the fact remains that Jesus, and that Christianity, have a lot more to offer the word lead than a simple serve. And that’s one reason why we at Uniting College have learn! lead! live! as our tagline – because we want the fullness of Jesus ministry and the depth of the Christian tradition to inhabit, shape and form what we learn and live in response to the “lead” word.

Posted by steve at 11:34 PM